Meet Several Passionate Participants of Our Inaugural Scavenger Hunt

October 23 is the final day to submit your Garden State selfies.

It hasn’t taken much to find eager participants for the inaugural Great New Jersey Monthly Scavenger Hunt 2020. With a little less than a month to go before the October 23 deadline, our readers have submitted more than 1,100 selfies from 36 locations around the Garden State.

The Scavenger Hunt competition kicked off in June and immediately proved to be a welcome activity during the ongoing pandemic. Participants have had no trouble maintaining social distance as they travel the state. In fact, many sport masks in their selfies.

To play, participants have to take selfies at up to 36 designated locations split among six categories. Submit a selfie from all six locations in any one category and you become eligible for the prize drawing in that category; visit all 36 locations and you become eligible for the grand-prize drawing—a $200 American Express gift card and a one-year subscription to New Jersey Monthly. There’s no cost to play.

The Scavenger Hunt sponsors—Calandra’s Mediterranean Grill in Fairfield; Williams Harley-Davidson in Lebanon, and the Morris County Tourism Bureau—are providing several of the great category prizes.

As of late September, over 30 participants have completed one or more of the six categories; nine have completed the entire hunt. Below, four fervent competitors share their experiences.

Lorajean Tice & Co. at their favorite stop on the hunt, the Carranza Memorial in Tabernacle.

When school lets out each June, Lorajean Tice, a fifth-grade history teacher at Demarest Elementary, typically shifts into a routine of part-time gigs: teaching at a camp, tutoring, working at a restaurant.

But amid the pandemic, “All of that kind of came to an end this summer,” she says.

Around the same time, she caught wind of the Scavenger Hunt, and soon recognized that checking off the destinations would provide a much-needed distraction. Her husband and two children got involved, followed by her siblings and their children.

“My sisters made fun of me in the beginning,” she laughs. “Both of them were working this summer, and they joked, ‘It must be nice to not have a job!’ And then before I knew it, they were doing it with me.” Even her 86-year-old parents joined in the fun.

Before returning to school this September, Tice put together a PowerPoint presentation of the experience to share with her new students.

“As silly as it might sound, it truthfully was just a reason to get up in the morning,” she says of the hunt. “It gave each day a purpose.”

Photos from left: Mary Lou Snyder (right) and her daughter, Suzanne, at the Women’s Federation Monument in Alpine; Snyder and her husband, Richard, at Lucy the Elephant in Margate City.

News of the Scavenger Hunt was “a lifesaver,” says Bloomfield resident Mary Lou Snyder, a passionate photographer and avid contributor to New Jersey Monthly’s annual Cover Contest.

After battling and beating the coronavirus in the spring, she was more than ready to (safely) venture back outside—where, to her delight, she discovered there was still so much of the Garden State she’d yet to see.

“With the Cover Contest, I thought I’d found everything,” she says. “But the Scavenger Hunt—I can’t believe that these places are in New Jersey.”

Places like the Colgate Clock in Hoboken: “Fantastic.” Battleship New Jersey in Camden: “Amazing.” Home of Haddy the Dinosaur, Haddonfield—a town she’d never heard of—“So quaint and pretty.”

Her husband, Richard, pitched in as a trusty chauffeur (“he did it to make me happy”); her daughter, Suzanne, also came along often (“it brought us closer”).

At the Thomas Paine Monument in Bordentown, Snyder struck up a conversation with an 85-year-old artist who’d come alone to paint the statue. In Sussex County, she posed for a picture with a cow on the side of the road (“I’d never seen one up close”). Whenever curious passersby approached, she was only too eager to fill them in.

Not that the hunt was without its challenges. After arriving at the Women’s Federation Monument in Alpine, for example, Snyder began crying in her car. Plagued with arthritis and “a bad back,” she feared the hike would be too difficult. After deliberating with her daughter, she resolved to at least try.

“We got up the hill, and Suzanne went into the woods and got a stick for me to use, and I limped all the way there,” Snyder says. “We got to the monument and took the picture, and I said to her, ‘I am so proud of myself. I’m not going to quit because I have a pain.’”

With just three locations left to visit, Snyder admits she’s sad the hunt is nearing its end.

“It was something I’ll never forget—never,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Jen Kucher-Csatlos (far right) with her son, Owen, and her husband, Michael.

Jen Kucher-Csatlos, a sculpture teacher at Sparta High School, is back to the grind. Currently, she’s up to her eyeballs in clay coils, teaching her students how to make mugs over—yes—Google Meet.

But this summer, amid cancelled camp and vacation plans, she was busy tackling the Scavenger Hunt with her husband, Michael, and their 6-year-old son, Owen, who quickly took charge.

“Owen would plan the routes,” she says. “He’s hilarious. He would map things out: ‘It’s going to take us one hour to get to the Battleship in Camden.’” Lunch stops, too, were a high priority.

The purposeful excursions took the trio to a slew of spots they’d never been. “It forced us to really travel around New Jersey,” she says, noting the opportunity to take in the scale of the Garden State, the populations of various towns, and the differences between northern areas and southern ones. “It got us out of the house, away from screens, doing things as a family.” Another teachable moment: “It helped reinforce masking for Owen.”

When Tropical Storm Isaias left the family without power, they couldn’t do much—so they got in the car and checked off Fort Mott State Park in Pennsville, Haddy the Dinosaur in Haddonfield, and Battleship New Jersey in Camden. “We made a day of it,” she says, noting the “majesty” of the ship.

Owen became determined to finish the hunt before his birthday on August 19—a deadline they proudly met.

“It was something really fantastic for us to celebrate in a time when we couldn’t travel,” she says, adding, I’m so grateful for it.”

Kylie Balish at the Great Falls in Paterson.

Bridgewater-based actress and model Kylie Balish, 13, heard about the Scavenger Hunt through her dad Jeffrey. “He said, ‘This would give us something to do over quarantine,’” she recalls. “And I said, “Yes—let’s go tomorrow.’”

Along with her mother, Susan, they began venturing throughout the state. “I learned a lot about different people and historical places in New Jersey,” she says. “It was a very cool experience.” In several of her selfies, Balish dons a sash bearing the title she won earlier this year: International Junior Miss New Jersey Preteen. 

An amusing lunchtime pattern arose: “Every time we went out to go to three or four locations,” she says, “we always found a hot dog place. Amazing hot dog places! There was always one right around the corner.” (She orders hers with cheese.)

At Paulsdale in Mount Laurel, Kylie enjoyed learning about women empowerment—a theme that also resonated at the Women’s Federation Monument, where Susan hadn’t realized they’d be hiking. “My mother was in flip-flops,” Balish laughs, remembering the difficult route and abundance of large rocks. “Halfway through, she took them off. She said to my dad, ‘If you can do it, I can do it, too.’”

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